Speaking after the Battle of Egypt in 1942 Sir Winston Churchill spoke these oft repeated words, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.
At that stage we were about halfway through the Second World War. Good things had begun to happen. Notably, of course, winning the Battle of Britain, where fighter pilots from all over the Commonwealth and Empire had fought off Hitler’s Nazi Bombers. But people were beginning to get tired. The blitz had dented but not overcome morale. Rationing was having an impact on people’s perceptions of the quality of life. There was a regular stream of telegrams home giving bad news of the death of loved ones. These deaths far away from home came on top of those who had died in the blitzes which so affected cities like Liverpool.
Much of what was happening, however, was reactive in fighting off attacks all over the world against our allies as well as ourselves and proactive in getting ready for D Day the day on which the final battles of the war would commence on the European continent. People just wanted the big day to arrive so that they could feel a bit more confident that their loved ones would be safe, and they could start planning for the future.
Liverpool feels a bit like that these days. We’ve had continued shocks which have damaged our city’s reputation. There have been 16 arrests of 15 people in and around the Council most notable being the arrest of the Elected Mayor and former Chief Executive. An internal audit conducted on the instructions of our new Chief Exec, Tony Reeves, in 2018 began to uncover the way that our internal systems had been corrupted and that any pretence of due diligence had disappeared from the council’s regeneration department.
That audit led in turn to the report from Max Caller which publicly made available through a Parliamentary report the scale and depth of Liverpool’s problems. That in its turn led to the appointment of Commissioners to oversee the work of the Council.
Almost every day things are coming to light which are both scandalous and costly. We’ve overpaid social services providers by £2.5 million and its likely that we can only get about half of that back.
Our city centre and its immediate surroundings also seems to be blitzed. Lime Street is a debacle. The so-called city centre movement strategy is already £13.5 million overspent incurring interest charges of £4.5 million and will take £706,000 a year to pay off for 25 years. That is not the end of it. We’ve already had to pay £1.5 million extra to make it safe and the project is now having to be retendered at an even higher cost and overspend. Linked to that is the £330,000 that we’ve had to spend on ‘wardens’ to help students cross safely at Byrom Street!
The blitz analogy is compounded in the periphery to the City Centre by 35 stalled development sites. The original list was 39, 9 have been started on but another 5 have been added to the list. My guess is that the 9 being worked on are the easiest and most profitable. I guess that many of the others, if not most of them, will be a charge to Liverpool taxpayers to put right. The initial work is costing £100,000 in extra staffing with staff borrowed from the Combined Authority.
The Caller report cost taxpayers about £150,000. The commissioners and the improvement programme are already scheduled to cost £2million and I understand that an announcement is due as to how that cost will rise.
Meanwhile the Council is unable to tell me how much money we didn’t charge developers in terms of section 106 planning gain money. We do know that they failed to collect £4.5 million of what they did charge. It has ended there. The planning committee let a developer worth £billions off £600,000 of S106 money having listened to a sob story! So, incompetence and naivety still flourish!
So why do I think that we might be over the worst:
Firstly, we are beginning to create a strong senior management team under our Chief Executive. I sit on the Appointments Panel, and I’m pleased that we have made some strong appointments of a new City Solicitor, Director of Adult Services and Chief Operating Officer. We have also confirmed the appointment of our existing Finance Director and Children’s Services Director. We have appointed one of our Executive Directors additionally as Deputy Chief Executive so there is a strong chain of Control.
Within the troubled Regeneration Department, we have confirmed the appointment of an Executive Director and Assistant Director for Roads and Transportation.
Secondly, we have begun to strengthen the Councillor side of things with a review of our constitution, officer member protocol and compulsory training for members. There is a clear improvement in member behaviour, but some members cannot react to a new, transparent and honest way of doing things. My guess is that most of these will not be allowed to stand again in 2023 as the national Labour Party has taken a grip of selections.
Thirdly, there is an intensive training programme for officers as well. Too many had either drifted into bad ways or been encouraged into them by bad leadership at the top. Officers are being shown what the right way of doing this is and have no alternative but to respond. A strategic improvement plan is in place to drive up behaviour of both officers and members.
Fourthly, there is a drive to reform our processes within the Council. Proper chains of command are being established so people know what they have to do and when. Those chains are being made more accountable and transparent which reduces the chances of the sort of skulduggery and incompetence we have seen over much of the past decade. Although I am not over impressed with the Government Commissioners, who have a limited range of knowledge of urban affairs, some of the work individuals amongst them are performing is really helping our own staff.
So, there’s lots of good stuff going on. I suspect that there is still more bad news to come. The more that we get into the detail of what has happened badly in the past the more we will discover.
The Council and City cannot fully heal until the Police and Crown Prosecution Service decide what they are going to do. It is now almost 6 years since the first investigations took place, by Lancashire Police, into the LDL/OCL problems and almost 3 years since the Merseyside Police started work on Operation Aloft. To date no-one has been charged and we are not able to fully sign our accounts off until we know what court action might take place.
I know that these investigations are extremely complicated and probably involve overseas players but there is an old saying, ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. So, my New Year plea to the Chief Constable is for her to see that something emerges in the new couple of months. If people are to be charged let’s get on with it. If not, they need to know so that they can resume a normal life.
Whatever happens, I and the rest of our Lib Dem team are ready to push for new ways, the emergence of the truth and the promotion of new policies and programmes which match what the people of Liverpool want and not the corrupted programmes of a faded and jaded group of politicians and officers who have either left the council already or soon will be.
Happy New Year to the people of Liverpool from your Lib Dem team.